I’ve lost track of whether I discussed this here or over on Gab, so lucky you, I’m going to give a condensed version of events to lead up to a recent conversation. I was an elder at a close-knit church for four years but was ready to step down after another elder made false accusations about me and told me that I was his “biggest rival” in the church. Unable to resolve the matter between myself and him even with the pastor, I decided to step down and remove my family from the oversight of this man.
The man who succeeded me was one who I was quite fond of. He is even-keeled, knowledgable, approachable, everything the Bible requires of elders and then some. I was excited to see him in the role initially. Even before I had stepped down and he took my spot, I chose to report to him over one of the final straws that led to my ultimate separation from this congregation. My respect for him was great, but even so, there were straws before that one that he had been unaware of. As an elder in that church, you find yourself dealing with certain matters and keeping that conversation limited to the smallest of audiences. What happens in the elder meetings stays in the elder meetings. Even if not all of the elders are present for the debate.
I do not live in a tower locked from the outside. I do go out and about from time to time, picking up groceries, running errands, that sort of thing. When I am out and about, I will occasionally run into people who I had once served as an elder. I had cried with them, prayed with them, built up a repertoire with them. I had administered communion to them. I had visited them in the hospital and visited with their loved ones in Hospice. So when they see me at Wal-Mart, they usually greet me enthusiastically. I can tell that they want answers to why I am no longer in attendance at their church rather than the one that we now call home, but that is an answer that I allow their leadership to give them. They are accountable before God to be truthful so I don’t insert myself into that dynamic.
I did a little volunteering at our new church this last week. Cleaning out the IT room, fixing old chairs, hanging shelving, that sort of stuff. As I did so, I ran into the elder who had taken my chair. You see, he now has an office in this other church. Not long after taking over as an elder at the original church, he stopped attending that church and was attending the new church I am now at. He was taken aside and asked to attend where he holds an office and he opted to leave both the office and his membership at the first church. I don’t know his context, but that is a bad look any way you squint at it.
So back to the present, he asked me what I was doing there and I said I was volunteering. The weather and the timing aren’t really ideal for when people want to volunteer, though they are ideal for a church getting ready for Easter. So I told him that I am in disagreement with my employer over whether they have a right to my private health information and am taking a vacation to delay a Human Resources case until the policy could be overturned, which it had been by the time we were talking. Volunteering was one way to reclaim some of my vacation time for later in the year when the weather is more cooperative. His reply to that information sounded a little bit like a sideways insult.
“Oh, you’re on bad terms over a disagreement? Sounds about par for the course.” (a rough paraphrase)
That hurt. I wasn’t absolutely sure he meant it in that way, but it didn’t feel right. So without getting into the gossip I told him that I had joined church number one at the lowest point of my life and they had walked me through it. I had stayed there for over a decade, serving and volunteering at every chance I could find. Leaving was not something I had wanted to do, it tore me up inside but I could not continue there any longer and remain faithful to God. I had tried before he was even approached to be an elder to reconcile with those who had sinned against me but they refused. I also told him that in the public conversations I had had with these beloved saints I had not said a word to them about why I left, and he knew that to be true because if I had the elders would have certainly heard of it. He nodded in agreement.
I don’t know what the remaining elders told him. Again, that is between them and God, and God will judge with a straight rule. Elders will be held with additional scrutiny. I didn’t tell him that I knew that he was no longer serving there as an elder and that I knew that his departure was publicly seen as worse than mine, due to the publicly known circumstances. None of that mattered. But it got me thinking about something.
The perceived dig against me wasn’t that I was in the wrong or that I had spread malicious slander about the church or that I had sinned in any definable way. The dig was that I was some sort of troublemaker, the common denominator in cases of dispute.
As if that is always a bad thing.
If I am seen as a troublemaker for calling out abuses from within the body of God, I am in good company. If controversy is the wake behind my boat, I have a little something in common with Paul, who our church spent months and months learning about through the book of Acts. If standing up to whitewashed walls is so wrong, I don’t want to be right. And if my own reputation is more important than living according to the truth, then I would already have my reward. Conflict resolution is only possible if there is conflict. And conflict is only possible when both parties demonstrate a backbone, whether that be their own or one they borrowed.
Stick tight. I think I just might have a few things to say about this topic. You see, I did have a line in the sand in that first church. It was crossed no less than three times and my attempts to reconcile were rebuffed. I did have a line that my employer has no right to my health information no matter how much they attempted to bully me and assert their preeminence. In BOTH of these cases, sinning against my conscience would have been involved in order for me to fall into line with what was being demanded of me.
While making enemies isn’t the ultimate goal, it seems to me that if you have been a Christian for any length of time and have not encountered any conflict, then you may want to adjust your line in the sand.
You do have a line, right?